posterity. Where would humanity be now, if we all went before
"I think you must be right. I have myself in my possession at this
moment, given me by one who loved her, an ink-stand made from the hoof
of a pony that died at the age of at least forty-two, and did her part
of the work of a pair till within a year or two of her death. - Poor
"Why, Mr. Gowrie, you talk of her as if she were a Christian!"
exclaimed Mr. Skymer.
"That's how you talked of Memnon a moment ago! Where is the
difference? Not in the size, though Memnon would make three of
"I didn't say _poor Memnon_, did I? You said _poor Zephyr_! That is
the way Christians talk about their friends gone home to the grand old
family mansion! Why they do, they would hardly like one to tell them!"
"It is true," I responded. "I understand you now! I don't think I ever
heard a widow speak of her departed husband without putting _poor_, or
_poor dear_, before his name. - By the way, when you hear a woman speak
of her _late_ husband, can you help thinking her ready to marry
"It does sound as if she had done with him! But here we are at the
gate! - Call, Memnon."
The horse gave a clear whinny, gentle, but loud enough to be heard at
some distance. It was a tall gate of wrought iron, but Memnon's
summons was answered by one who could clear it - though not open it any
more than he: a little bird, which I was not ornithologist enough to
recognize - mainly because of my short-sightedness, I hope - came
fluttering from the long avenue within, perched on the top of the
gate, looked down at our party for a moment as if debating the
prudent, dropped suddenly on Memnon's left ear, and thence to his
master's shoulder, where he sat till the gate was opened. The little
one went half-way up the inner avenue with us, making several flights
and returns before he left us.
The boy that opened the gate, a chubby little fellow of seven, looked
up in Mr. Skymer's face as if he had been his father and king in one,
and stood gazing after him as long as he was in sight. I noticed
also - who could have failed to notice? - that every now and then a bird
would drop from the tree we were passing under, and alight for a
minute on my host's head. Once when he happened to uncover it, seven
or eight perched together upon it. One tiny bird got caught in his
beard by the claws.
"You cannot surely have tamed _all_ the birds in your grounds!" I
"If I have," he answered, "it has been by permitting them to be
"You mean it is the nature of birds to be friendly with man?"
"I do. Through long ages men have been their enemies, and so have
alienated them - they too not being themselves."
"You mean that unfriendliness is not natural to men?"
"It cannot be human to be cruel!"
"How is it, then, that so many boys are careless what suffering they
"Because they have in them the blood of men who loved cruelty, and
never repented of it."
"But how do you account for those men loving cruelty - for their being
what you say is contrary to their nature?"
"Ah, if I could account for that, I should be at the secret of most
things! All I meant to half-explain was, how it came that so many who
have no wish to inflict suffering, yet are careless of inflicting it."
I saw that we must know each other better before he would quite open
his mind to me. I saw that though, hospitable of heart, he threw his
best rooms open to all, there were others in his house into which he
did not invite every acquaintance.
The avenue led to a wide gravelled space before a plain, low, long
building in whitish stone, with pillared portico. In the middle of the
space was a fountain, and close to it a few chairs. Mr. Skymer begged
me to be seated. Memnon walked up to the fountain, and lay down, that
I might get off his back as easily as I had got on it. Once down, he
turned on his side, and lay still.
"The air is so mild," said my host, "I fancy you will prefer this to
"Mild!" I rejoined; "I should call it hot!"
"I have been so much in real heat!" he returned. "Notwithstanding my
love of turf, I keep this much in gravel for the sake of the desert."
I took the seat he offered me, wondering whether Memnon was
comfortable where he lay; and, absorbed in the horse, did not see my
host go to the other side of the basin. Suddenly we were "clothed
upon" with a house which, though it came indeed from the earth, might
well have come direct from heaven: a great uprush of water spread
above us a tent-like dome, through which the sun came with a cool,
broken, almost frosty glitter. We seemed in the heart of a huge
soap-bubble. I exclaimed with delight.
"I thought you would enjoy my sun-shade!" said Mr. Skymer. "Memnon and
I often come here of a hot morning, when nobody wants us. Don't we,
The horse lifted his nose a little, and made a low soft noise, a chord
of mingled obedience and delight - a moan of pleasure mixed with a
We had not been seated many moments, and had scarcely pushed off the
shore of silence into a new sea of talk, when we were interrupted by
the invasion of half a dozen dogs. They were of all sorts down to no
sort. Mr. Skymer called one of them Tadpole - I suppose because he had
the hugest tail, while his legs were not visible without being looked
"That animal," said his master, " - he looks like a dog, but who would
be positive what he was! - is the cleverest in the pack. He seems to me
a rare individuality. His ancestors must have been of all sorts, and
he has gathered from them every good quality possessed by each. Think
what a man might be - made up that way!"
"Why is there no such man?" I said.
"There may be some such men. There must be many one day," he answered,
" - but not for a while yet. Men must first be made willing to be
"And you don't think men willing to be made noble?"
"Oh yes! willing enough, some of them, to be _made_ noble!"
"I do not understand. I thought you said they were not!"
"They are willing enough _to be made_ noble; but that is very
different from being willing _to be_ noble: that takes trouble. How
can any one become noble who desires it so little as not to fight for
The man drew me more and more. He had a way of talking about things
seldom mentioned except in dull fashion in the pulpit, as if he cared
about them. He spoke as of familiar things, but made you feel he was
looking out of a high window. There are many who never speak of real
things except in a false tone; this man spoke of such without an atom
of assumed solemnity - in his ordinary voice: they came into his mind
as to their home - not as dreams of the night, but as facts of the day.
I sat for a while, gazing up through the thin veil of water at the
blue sky so far beyond. I thought how like that veil was to our little
life here, overdomed by that boundless foreshortening of space. The
lines in Shelley's _Adonais_ came to me:
"Life, like a dome of many-coloured glass,
Stains the white radiance of Eternity,
Until Death tramples it to fragments."
Then I thought of what my host had said concerning the too short lives
of horses, and wondered what he would say about those of dogs.
"Dogs are more intelligent than horses," I said: "why do they live a
yet shorter time?"
"I doubt if you would say so in an Arab's tent," he returned. "If you
had said, 'still more affectionate,' I should have known better how to
"Then I do say so," I replied.
"And I return, that is just why they live no longer. They do not find
the world good enough for them, die, and leave it."
"They have a much happier life than horses!"
"Many dogs than some horses, I grant."
That instant arose what I fancied must be an unusual sound in the
place: two of the dogs were fighting. The master got up. I thought
with myself, "Now we shall see his notions of discipline!" nor had I
long to wait. In his hand was a small riding-whip, which I afterward
found he always carried in avoidance of having to inflict a heavier
punishment from inability to inflict a lighter; for he held that in
all wrong-doing man can deal with, the kindest thing is not only to
punish, but, with animals especially, to punish at once. He ran to the
conflicting parties. They separated the moment they heard the sound of
his coming. One came cringing and crawling to his feet; the other - it
was the nondescript Tadpole - stood a little way off, wagging his tail,
and cocking his head up in his master's face. He gave the one at his
feet several pretty severe cuts with the whip, and sent him off. The
other drew nearer. His master turned away and took no notice of him.
"May I ask," I said, when he returned to his seat, "why you did not
punish both the animals for their breach of the peace?"
"They did not both deserve it."
"How could you tell that? You were not looking when the quarrel
"Ah, but you see I know the dogs! One of them - I saw at a glance how
it was - had found a bone, and dog-rule about finding is, that what you
find is yours. The other, notwithstanding, wanted a share. It was
Tadpole who found the bone, and he - partly from his sense of
justice - cannot endure to have his claims infringed upon. Every dog of
them knows that Tadpole must be in the right."
"He looked as if he expected you to approve of his conduct!"
"Yes, that is the worst of Tadpole! he is so self-righteous as to
imagine he deserves praise for standing on his rights! He is but a
dog, you see, and knows no better!"
"I noticed you disregarded his appeal."
"I was not going to praise him for nothing!"
"You expect them to understand your treatment?"
"No one can tell how infinitesimally small the beginnings of
understanding, as of life, may be. The only way to make animals
reasonable - more reasonable, I mean - is to treat them as
reasonable. Until you can go down into the abysses of creation, you
cannot know when a nature begins to see a difference in quality
"I confess," I said, "Mr. Tadpole did seem a little ashamed as he went
"And you see Blanco White at my feet, taking care not to touch
them. He is giving time, he thinks, for my anger to pass."
He laughed the merriest laugh. The dog looked up eagerly, but dropped
his head again.
If I go on like this, however, I shall have to take another book to
tell the story for which I began the present! In short, I was drawn to
the man as never to another since the friend of my youth went where I
shall go to seek and find him one day - or, more likely, one solemn
night. I was greatly his inferior, but love is a quick divider of
shares: he that gathers much has nothing over, and he that gathers
little has no lack. I soon ceased to think of him as my _new_ friend,
for I seemed to have known him before I was born.
I am going to tell the early part of his history. If only I could tell
it as it deserves to be told! The most interesting story may be so
narrated as that only the eyes of a Shakspere could spy the shine
underneath its dull surface.
He never told me any great portion of the tale of his life
continuously. One thing would suggest another - generally with no
connection in time. I have pieced the parts together myself. He did
indeed set out more than once or twice to give me his history, but
always we got discussing something, and so it was interrupted.
I will not write what I have set in order as if he were himself
narrating: the most modest man in the world would that way be put at a
disadvantage. The constant recurrence of the capital _I_, is apt to
rouse in the mind of the reader, especially if he be himself
egotistic, more or less of irritation at the egotism of the
narrator - while in reality the freedom of a man's personal utterance
_may_ be owing to his lack of the egotistic. Partly for my
friend's sake, therefore, I shall tell the story as - what indeed it
is - a narrative of my own concerning him.
With his parents.
The lingering, long-drawn-out _table d'h√іte_ dinner was just over in
one of the inns on the _cornice_ road. The gentlemen had gone into the
garden, and some of the ladies to the _salotto_, where open windows
admitted the odours of many a flower and blossoming tree, for it was
toward the end of spring in that region. One had sat down to a
tinkling piano, and was striking a few chords, more to her own
pleasure than that of the company. Two or three were looking out into
the garden, where the diaphanous veil of twilight had so speedily
thickened to the crape of night, its darkness filled with thousands of
small isolated splendours - fire-flies, those "golden boats" never seen
"on a sunny sea," but haunting the eves of the young summer, pulsing,
pulsing through the dusky air with seeming aimlessness, like sweet
thoughts that have no faith to bind them in one. A tall, graceful
woman stood in one of the windows alone. She had never been in Italy
before, had never before seen fire-flies, and was absorbed in the
beauty of their motion as much as in that of their golden
flashes. Each roving star had a tide in its light that rose and ebbed
as it moved, so that it seemed to push itself on by its own radiance,
ever waxing and waning. In wide, complicated dance, they wove a huge,
warpless tapestry with the weft of an ever vanishing aureate
shine. The lady, an Englishwoman evidently, gave a little sigh and
looked round, regretting, apparently, that her husband was not by her
side to look on the loveliness that woke a faint-hued fairy-tale in
her heart. The same moment he entered the room and came to her. He was
a man above the middle height, and from the slenderness of his figure,
looked taller than he was. He had a vivacity of motion, a readiness to
turn on his heel, a free swing of the shoulders, and an erect carriage
of the head, which all marked him a man of action: one that speculated
on his calling would immediately have had his sense of fitness
satisfied when he heard that he was the commander of an English
gun-boat, which he was now on his way to Genoa to join. He was
young - within the twenties, though looking two or three and thirty,
his face was so browned by sun and wind. His features were regular and
attractive, his eyes so dark that the liveliness of their movement
seemed hardly in accord with the weight of their colour. His wife was
very fair, with large eyes of the deepest blue of eyes. She looked
delicate, and was very lovely. They had been married about five
years. A friend had brought them in his yacht as far as Nice, and they
were now going on by land. From Genoa the lady must find her way home
without her husband.
The lights in the room having been extinguished that the few present
might better see the fire-flies, he put his arm round her waist.
"I'm so glad you're come, Henry!" she said, favoured by the piano. "I
was uncomfortable at having the lovely sight all to myself!"
"It is lovely, darling!" he rejoined; then, after a moment's pause,
added, "I hope you will be able to sleep without the sea to rock you!"
"No fear of that!" she answered. "The stillness will be delightful. I
was thoroughly reconciled to the motion of the yacht," she went on,
"but there is a satisfaction in feeling the solid earth under you, and
knowing it will keep steady all night."
"I am glad you like the change. I never sleep the first night on
shore. - I cannot tell what it is, but somehow I keep wishing Fyvie
could have taken us all the way."
"Never mind, love. I will keep awake with you."
"It's not that! How could I mind lying awake with you beside me! Oh
Grace, you don't know, you cannot know, what you are to me! I don't
feel in the least that you're my other half, as people say. You're not
like a part of myself at all; to think so would be sacrilege! You are
quite another, else how could you be mine! You make me forget myself
altogether. When I look at you, I stand before an enchanted mirror
that cannot show what is in front of it."
"No, Harry; I'm a true mirror, for I hold that inside me which remains
"I fear you've got beyond me!" said her husband, laughing. "You always
"Yes, at nonsense, Harry."
"Then your speech was nonsense, was it?"
"No; it was full of sense. But think of something you would like me to
say; I must fetch the boy to see the fire-flies; when I come back I
will say it."
She left the room. Her husband stood where he was, gazing out, with a
tender look in his face that deepened to sadness - whether from the
haunting thought of his wife's delicate health and his having to leave
her, or from some strange foreboding, I cannot tell. When presently
she returned with their one child in her arms, he made haste to take
him from her.
"My darling," he said, "he is much too heavy for you! How stupid of me
not to think of it! If you don't promise me never to do that at home,
I will take him to sea with me!"
The child, a fair, bright boy, the sleep in whose eyes had turned to
wonder, for they seemed to see everything, and be quite satisfied with
nothing, went readily to his father, but looked back at his
mother. The only sign he gave that he was delighted with the
fire-flies was, that he looked now to the one, now to the other of his
parents, speechless, with shining eyes. He knew they were feeling just
like himself. Silent communion was enough.
The father turned to carry him back to bed. The mother turned to look
after them. As she did so, her eyes fell upon two or three delicate,
small-leaved plants - I do not know what they were - that stood in pots
on the balcony in front of the open window: they were shivering. The
night was perfectly still, but their leaves trembled as with an
"Look, Harry! What is that?" she cried, pointing to them.
He turned and looked, said it must be some loaded wagon passing, and
went off with the child.
"I hope to-morrow will be just like to-day!" said his wife when he
returned. "What shall we do with it? - our one real holiday, you know!"
"I have a notion in my head," he answered. "That little town Georgina
spoke of, is not far from here - among the hills: shall we go and see
Without his parents.
The sun in England seems to shine because he cannot help it; the sun
in Italy seems to shine because he means it, and wants to mean
it. Thus he shone the next morning, including in his attentions a
curious little couple, husband and wife, who, attended by a guide, and
borne by animals which might be mules and might be donkeys, and were
not lovely to look on except through sympathy with their ugliness,
were slowly ascending a steep terraced and zigzagged road, with olive
trees above and below them. They were on the south side of the hill,
and the olives gave them none of the little shadow they have in their
power, for the trees next the sun were always below the road. The man
often wiped his red, innocent face, and looked not a little
distressed; but the lady, although as stout as he, did not seem to
suffer, perhaps because she was sheltered by a very large bonnet After
a silence of a good many minutes, she was the first to speak.
"I can't say but I'm disappointed in the olives, Thomas," she
remarked. "They ain't much to keep the sun off you!"
"They wouldn't look bad along a brookside in Essex!" returned her
husband. "Here they do seem a bit out of place!"
"Well, but, poor things! how are they to help it - with only a trayful
of earth under their feet! If you planted a priest on a terrace he
would soon be as thin as they!"
They had just passed a very stout priest, in a low broad hat, and
cassock, and she laughed merrily at her small joke. They were an
English country parson and his wife, abroad for the first time in
their now middle-aged lives, and happy as children just out of
school. Incapable of disliking anybody, there was no unkindness in
Mrs. Porson's laughter.
"I don't see," she resumed, "how they ever can have a picnic in such a
"There's no place to sit down!"
"Here's a whole hill-side!"
"But so hard!" she answered. "There's not an inch of turf or grass in
The pair - equally plump, and equally good-natured - laughed together.
I need not give more of their talk. It was better than most talk, yet
not worth recording. Their guide, perceiving that they knew no more of
Italian than he did of English, had withdrawn to the rear, and stumped
along behind them all the way, holding much converse with his donkeys
however, admonishing now this one, now that one, and seeming not a
little hurt with their behaviour, to judge from the expostulations
that accompanied his occasionally more potent arguments. Assuredly the
speed they made was small; but it was a festa, and hot.
They were on the way to a small town some distance from the shore, on
the crest of the hill they were now ascending. It would, from the
number of its inhabitants, have been in England a village, but there
are no villages in the Riviera. However insignificant a place may be,
it is none the less a town, possibly a walled town. Somebody had told
Mr. and Mrs. Person they ought to visit Graffiacane, and to
Graffiacane they were therefore bound: why they ought to visit it, and
what was to be seen there, they took the readiest way to know.
The place was indeed a curious one, high among the hills, and on the
top of its own hill, with approaches to it like the trenches of a
siege. All the old towns in that region seem to have climbed up to
look over the heads of other things. Graffiacane saw over hills and
valleys and many another town - each with its church standing highest,
the guardian of the flock of houses beneath it; saw over many a
water-course, mostly dry, with lovely oleanders growing in the middle
of it; saw over multitudinous oliveyards and vineyards; saw over mills
with great wheels, and little ribbons of water to drive them - running
sometimes along the tops of walls to get at their work; saw over
rugged pines, and ugly, verdureless, raw hillsides - away to the sea,
lying in the heat like a heavenly vat in which all the tails of all
the peacocks God was making, lay steeped in their proper dye. Numerous
were the sharp turns the donkeys made in their ascent; and at this
corner and that, the sweetest life-giving wind would leap out upon the
travellers, as if it had been lying there in wait to surprise them
with the heavenliest the old earth, young for all her years, could
give them. But they were getting too tired to enjoy anything, and were
both indeed not far from asleep on the backs of their humble beasts,
when a sudden, more determined yet more cheerful assault of their
guide upon his donkeys, roused both them and their riders; and looking
sleepily up, with his loud _heeoop_ ringing in their ears, and a sense
of the insidious approach of two headaches, they saw before them the
little town, its houses gathered close for protection, like a brood of
chickens, and the white steeple of the church rising above them, like
the neck of the love-valiant hen.
Passing through the narrow arch of the low-browed gateway, hot as was
the hour, a sudden cold struck to their bones. For not a ray of light
shone into the narrow street. The houses were lofty as those of a
city, and parted so little by the width of the street that friends on
opposite sides might almost from their windows have shaken
hands. Narrow, rough, steep old stone-stairs ran up between and inside
the houses, all the doors of which were open to the air - here,
however, none of the sweetest. Everywhere was shadow; everywhere one
or another evil odour; everywhere a look of abject and dirty
poverty - to an English eye, that is. Everywhere were pretty children,
young, slatternly mothers, withered-up grandmothers, the gleam of
glowing reds and yellows, and the coolness of subdued greens and fine
blues. Such at least was the composite first impression made on Mr.
and Mrs. Porson. As it was a festa, more men than usual were looking
out of cavern-like doorways or over hand-wrought iron balconies, were
leaning their backs against door-posts, and smoking as if too lazy to
stop. Many of the women were at prayers in the church. All was
orderly, and quieter than usual for a festa. None could have told the
reason; the townsfolk were hardly aware that an undefinable oppression
was upon them - an oppression that lay also upon their visitors, and
the donkeys that had toiled with them up the hills and slow-climbing
It added to the gloom and consequent humidity of the town that the